BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE
January 27, 2013
With experience of Greek economy at near collapse, the Spanish economy unstable and Portugal on shaky grounds, Britain is rethinking its old commitment that made it one of the biggest components of the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum in five years, provided his party wins that would allow the British people choose whether to continue the EU membership.
Mr. Cameron’s decision to throw Britain’s membership into a vote has outraged other EU nations that believe Europe can only survive as a unified bloc but not in isolation. France and Germany have said no EU member has the choice of “cherry picking” whatever rules it desires to enforce. They are against disintegration of the union and unease with the idea of Britain bailing out of its decades old commitment to the union.
It did not take long for Europe to feel impact of the economic crisis and housing market collapse that began in the United States in 2009. Greece was first to need bailout funds from the EU, prompting Germany the biggest economy in the region, Britain and France to scramble their resources to safe it from a near collapse. Soon after, talks began about Spain and Portugal heading towards financial crisis if not supported by the EU, which led to meetings on how to protect the two economies. Four Spanish banks received $48 billion from the EU bailout fund on condition they layoff thousands of employees and close offices.
Portugal received $110 billion in rescue loan to help it overcome its debt problems and yet, the future of the EU economy remains in doubt. The uncertainty among other issues including immigration, have led to debates within the British government, on whether doing away with the EU is a better option. The past few years, Britain has seen a sharp increase in migration into its territories, from new EU member countries. Immigrants from Romania, Poland, Estonia and other Eastern European bloc are seeking better opportunities in Britain. The overwhelming rate of migration is taking a toll on its resources and possibility of containment seems unrealistic.
Since its membership of the EU, Britain did not do away with the Pound its currency and has not adopted the Euro a major currency of the EU. Decision of some EU members not to join the Euro, created doubts about the union’s financial market, as it continues to undercut hopes of a stable and robust EU economy.
There is a sense of national interests among members that goes beyond the unity that created the Union. Germany’s rise to the top and its role as a major player in EU affairs, does not sit well with Britain, and France’s isolationist involvement in Mali seems a threat to Britain’s status as a leader, a move that has superseded the bloc’s goals of becoming a major player in global affairs as a union.
Mr. Cameron’s call for a referendum could threaten the future of the union at a time when it is trying to find a common approach to solving its financial woes. But while secession by Britain could be a stumbling block to the Union’s progress, there are ramifications if the British government decides to go along with a pullout. So far, there is declining favorability ratings for the EU, among the British people now 45 percent down from 51 percent in 2011.
A withdrawal by Britain will set off a chain of events including stripping British citizens of their EU citizenship. As EU member, Britons can work in any EU state without the hurdles of visa required of a non EU member. A separation will take such rights away and a British citizen willing to work abroad, may need special visa to do so.
British businesses will face possibility of a new tax code. An exit from the European bloc means all tax benefits as EU member are no longer valid and a British business with plans to set up in other European nations may have to deal with new rules on business practices that could be avoided had Britain remained in the union.
The relationship Britain enjoys with other union member states will suffer. It would no longer be a trustworthy ally and its access to secret and intelligence as EU member, could be limited. A revived economy in the EU with Germany and France playing leading roles, may threaten its status as a strong economy in isolation. British made goods entering the bloc will face new tariffs and competition. The free entry of its goods to the European market, a benefit it has will diminish as France and Germany gain more access and flood the European markets with their goods.
An exit by Britain is unpopular with the United States a strong ally. Since the talk about a possible withdrawal emerged, the U.S. government has insisted that Britain stay in the Union, fearing a departure would weaken Europe as a diplomatic, military and financial partner. Also, Britain’s role as a permanent member at the UN Security Council may become unpopular within Europe, as its voice will no longer have the unified tone of a Union member.
Britain without the EU, may survive due to its history as a small but powerful nation, both economically and militarily. However, the benefit of EU membership outweighs the merits of non membership. Dancing to the tone of far-right anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party, will have unexpected consequences. Other union members have made it clear Britain can’t “eat its cake and have it” as well. It is either it remains a member or give up its membership. This is a fight over power and Britain thinks it is losing it. It wants a common market but no responsibility for failing union member states. It is questionable how the EU can survive with a market agreement but no common pact on other economic, legal and social issues.
With Europe’s economic troubles far from over and much of the Euro-zone expected in recession, a British exit is not what the region needs. If Mr. Cameron decides to press on with the referendum, the hope is Britons will make a wise choice of path to follow. A decision contrary to a unified bloc will not only limit the Union’s power but also would be a disadvantage to British citizens in the future.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available at http://www.amazon.com/author/adeyemioshunrinade. Follow on Twitter @san0670.
Categories: Foreign Affairs